An offhand remark in a Facebook Group I am in started me thinking. A woman posted a query asking about a fee-based lookup service offered online. She asked if anyone had used it and was it a) legitimate and b) worth the money.
As it happens I have used this service and think it is well worth the money, so I posted my experiences with it (all positive - reasonable fee, quick turnaround time, access to records I cannot access personally)
Then came the comment from a woman who said she would never use that site or any site that charged money for genealogy because, in her words, "Genealogy should be free".
I didn't respond but I wondered if she realized how much time and money is put into gathering records to put online. Big companies are obviously a business entity and their objective is to make a profit, not to provide us genealogists with great grandpa's death certificate for free. Our plumber or electrician or dentist or grocery stores or clothing stores are not providing us with free services so I shake my head at the notion that a company or an individual should.
If "genealogy should be free" then by extension the basic necessities of life should also be free! That would mean that food, shelter, and clothing would all be free. Grocery stores should not be charging for food, farmers would spend their lives working for the joy of it... and on and on it would go. I wonder if those who believe that "genealogy should be free" can see how ridiculous a statement that is?
Some people do give their time and expertise for free some of the time. Doctors might travel to other countries to provide free medical care for a month or a year but when they go back home they charge for those same services.
What is involved in a large company putting data online? The expense of acquiring the database - in time and possibly money. It can take months of negotiations to get a local archive or church to agree to having their records published. Then there is the time and money on hiring people to scan, transcribe and index the records. Add to that the personnel hired to set up and maintain the database, the programmers needed to run the website which the web developers created (these are all jobs that individuals are paid to do)
What about an individual who has a lookup service such as the one first mentioned? In this specific case, this man creates indexes to previously unindexed records. That's a huge job! He has spent a great deal of time on this. Then he offers, at a very reasonable fee, to go to the Archives and retrieve a record if you find an ancestor in his indexes. Why on earth would anyone think he should do this for free? I say good for him for a) providing a way for those of us living far away to obtain those records and b)finding a creative way to make a bit of money from something he obviously loves doing
Not everyone is independently wealthy or financially stable enough to volunteer hundreds of hours to help other genealogists. Nor do some people want to do such charitable activities.
Genealogists familiar with my website Olive Tree Genealogy know that I have thousands of genealogy records online - for free. Yep, that's right - free. I spend my time and/or money gathering records to provide for other genealogists at no cost to them. How do I do this? I took ads to earn some money from my website. Why? Because it was a choice - continue working at my paid job outside the home and not have a website with these wonderful records OR give up my job, and devote my time to a website offering free genealogy records - and that meant taking ads as a way to help offset the income I lost by quitting my paying job.
think the woman who made the original comment that she would never pay
for genealogy, overlooked the fact that if she goes to a local library
or archive, she is no doubt paying for some kind of transportation.
Other expenses are often involved - money for lunches, for parking, for a
babysitter, for photocopies..... rarely is anything actually "free".
For me a huge factor too is the convenience of having records online
and the ease of access which frees up my time to do other things.
The bottom line is that we live in a world where individuals are compensated for the work that they do. This is how our society functions. Why anyone would expect someone to work long hours providing the rest of us with a free service makes no sense. Sure it's wonderful if someone does volunteer their time and money to help others - and there are lots of volunteer organizations to be found for those who have the time and the inclination. But on a day to day basis, it is usually the case that we humans get up, go out to our jobs, then come home - and we expect a pay check at the end of it. And there's nothing wrong with wanting or needing to be paid for the work we do.